Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Setting the Stage

book image from
desperate mom.com
During my angry mama phase, I picked up a book at our local Family Christian bookstore called Desperate: Hope For the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. I had never heard of either of these women before and wasn't even looking for anything in particular that day (my husband likes to go when the CDs are on sale for $5!), but the title and the image on the cover of the book leaped off the shelf and into my heart. I bought the book, took it home, read it, underlined it, copied whole paragraphs into my journal, and then went online to find out more about these wise women who wrote such inspiring words. I discovered that the more mature co-author, Sally Clarkson, hosted several conferences around the country called the Mom Heart Conference and that in just a few months, she would be bringing this conference to a town less than 100 miles away from where I live, just down the road from my childhood home where my parents still lived in a large, now-empty house. I immediately emailed all my close mom friends, hoping just one of them would want to accompany me for the weekend, bribing them with free lodging at my parents' house.
SIX friends responded to that email and registered for the conference with me, based, probably, mostly, on wanting a night away, but also on the promise that the speakers would reach to a mother's heart and all of us, with 17 kids between us at the time (now there are 21!) were feeling the need to be encouraged by someone who had raised children and raised them well.
Momference 2014! I am so thankful for these amazing, supportive,
hilarious, honest women I am undeservedly blessed to call my friends.
I had no idea before attending Mom Heart Conference that year that Sally Clarkson has written multiple well-received books on mothering, has homeschooled all four of her now-adult children, and is an impassioned advocate of home education.  And while I enjoyed the conference and the company of my six girlfriends without the usual interruptions that come with small children, homeschooling was not even a blip on my radar at the time. I did purchase two books that weekend from the Clarkson family, one, a family devotional, and the other, a book about books written by Sally's eldest daughter Sarah called Read for the Heart. I determined that using these two books would be a good way for me to still nurture and reach my kids while the majority of their wake time in years to come was spent at school.
Flash forward two years and while I referenced the book list book a couple of times prior to heading off to the library, we still mostly come home with the current favorite books of the moment, regardless of content (mostly, I do have some standards!) and the devotional sat on the shelf as the morning rush and the afternoon homework grind and early bedtimes have taken away most of our non-school daytime hours.
Imagine my surprise that at the same time as I started seriously thinking about home education that I would be totally fed up with my disorderly house and as a result had picked up a book by Sally Clarkson about making a life-giving home (the only other book of Sally Clarkson's I have ever read besides Desperate).
Now that the homeschool train is fully in motion for our family, I've pulled that family devotional down from the shelf and have used it to start outlining Bible lessons to start each school day. Sarah's book about books is sitting (in my still-a-work-in-progress homeschool room) right next to Honey for a Child's Heart and The Read-Aloud Handbook. And while I wait for my copy of Educating the Whole-Hearted Child to be delivered next week, I've had to seriously hold back from marking up a borrowed copy of the same title as I read with excitement and encouragement about how Sally and her husband Clay raised their four children to be successful, Godly adults.

Yesterday I wrote about seeing the big picture and remembering this sequence of events today is further confirmation that while we may make plans, ultimately, it is the LORD who determines our steps. What a blessing and a relief it is for me to trust in Him!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Seeing the Bigger Picture

our temporary family of six
(blurry for protection of our foster children)
I used to think that I had to do something huge for God. That in order to earn His Love, I had to perform some heroic act of service and prove myself worthy. Due in part to this wrong thinking, our family welcomed two foster children to our home a few years ago. This was during my "angry mama" phase (see my testimony in this earlier post) and I was barely hanging onto my sanity with my own biological children and had no business bringing two already hurting children into the mix. Needless to say it didn't end well when I reached the end of my rope (not the end of God, notice, but the end of ME) after three months and we disrupted our placements. By the grace of God, the siblings are together now in an extremely loving home, and I have peace in knowing that this particular home was not available at the time we received the call so our months with them were not wasted, because they were in a safe place with us. But when I think of the times I was short instead of comforting with my words, rushed instead of generous with my time, and annoyed instead of welcoming with my arms, I know that I failed.
I was trying to earn Love. The Love that I already had, but I couldn't see it to share it with the four children in front of me.
But we aren't all called to be Jonah saving entire cities; sometimes the best thing we can do is just take one small step at a time in the right direction and trust in the One who sees the bigger picture. When we were fostering, I lacked that trust. All I could see was the seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of me and I wanted out. What stands out to me when I think about that time is my selfishness, both the lack of heart preparation before and during the placement and the relief I felt when my husband and I decided to make the call to end it. But I also know that I did not count the cost of bringing two hurting children into our home. I did not consider my sinful heart of stone and I did not consider the two God-given children I was already responsible for. (I cringe now when I think of how flippant I was in my attitude, "oh, they'll get used to it. Sure, our early-riser, sensitive-to-loud-noises son can share a room with an infant." Again, Leila and Cameron: please forgive me!!)
As we make preparations to homeschool, I am focusing on one step at a time. I don't know if we will homeschool all the way through graduation. I don't know how the next school year will go (heck, I don't even know how the rest of this day will go). But I do know that my heart is softer. I know that my conviction about the idol of "me time" is truly from the LORD and not a selfish attempt to appear more holy in doing some big thing. I know that I can not and do not need to earn God's Love. That it is freely given. I know that while we are imperfect, we strive toward a perfect God who can see the whole of life. (He can even see if we will ever foster again.) I don't know what lies ahead, but the difference now is that my trust lies with the One who does know and that is enough.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Messy = Happy

there is a decal that is displayed above the window that faces my kitchen sink:

getting ready to make Christmas cookies (2013)
My husband thinks I picked this saying because I hate to do the dishes and often put them off as long as possible. While it is true that there are often dirty dishes in our sink, they are not a cause for happiness and the real reason I hung this decal when my babies were still babies was the dream I had of making messes with them when they got older as I passed along my love for all creative things in the kitchen. And while I have had a little sous chef from time to time, most of the work I do in the kitchen is solitary due to our current schedule. I love the process of menu planning, figuring out how to make the most out of each ingredient I buy at the farmer's market on Saturday and how to balance good, made-mostly-from-scratch meals to fuel our bodies and can't wait to pass along this knowledge to Leila and Cameron. It is well-documented that children who are involved in the the menu planning and choosing of healthy foods are more likely to eat them and I'm looking forward to putting this into practice with the help of my little students in the very near future.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Friends and Methods

I feel a little silly writing a homeschool blog when I have yet to teach a single lesson or even order any curriculum. Sort of like a first-time mom who exclaims at her baby shower how much use she will get out of the wipe warmer or how she read that bamboo swaddling blankets will assure that everyone in the household sleeps eight hours a night right off the bat.
But just like I have friends who went before me into labor and motherhood who gave advice and shared what worked for them, I am blessed to also have wonderful friends who I initially thought were crazy, but now look to for guidance as I make plans for my first homeschool year.
Each of my friends adheres to a different schooling method and has a different family situation, and by talking to them I've learned that there are a million different ways homeschool can look.
One friend takes her kids to a Classical Connections group each week and uses that as the spine for her teaching at home. One friend orders most of her curriculum for the year already planned out. One friend chooses her own curriculum and goes with the flow of the week, or the day, or the hour! One friend is at home three days a week and works two days. One friend's husband is home on Mondays and they plan family hikes and adventures out of the home together. One friend is part of a school where her kids can go one day a week to interact with classmates and learn from an adult other than mom. One friend enjoys reading aloud to her children for much of the day. One friend is teaching her children about the value of home and emphasizes family responsibilities along side of academic lessons. One friend is part of a private school which offers park days, spelling bees, artists fairs, and poetry recitals as opportunities for schooled-at-home families to come together.

All of my friends seem overwhelmed at times, and all my friends speak with joy and love when they share with me their homeschooling experiences! I have learned so much from them already, and I am so grateful for their openness and encouragement as our family undertakes this journey!

Based on talking with and observing what works for my friends, and doing some research online (this blog post at Ed Snapshots was super helpful for me to identify and define some of the phrases and names I've heard tossed around in the homeschool community), as I look forward to planning next year, I'd say we are leaning towards a Charlotte Mason educational style, as interpreted by Carole Joy Seid. For us, this means that we will lean heavily on literature and books to carry us through our day which I'm hoping will be a good fit for our already book-loving family. We are fortunate to live within walking (or usually biking!) distance to our amazing public library and visit weekly. Books are received as welcome gifts every Christmas, birthday, and sometimes in between just for fun, and bedtime stories are a highly anticipated nightly event at our house.
But before I can officially call myself a Charlotte Mason homeschool mom, I need to do some more reading and research on her methods, but based on the list linked to above, that is the "box" that we are checking for now. A friend shared with me a video from Carole Joy Seid who speaks so strongly about a literature-based education and set me on the path towards a Charlotte Mason style. Listening to her speak gives me confidence that we can be successful in this homeschool adventure based on the habits and values we already have in our family.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How We Got Here

if you would have told me six months ago that I would be willingly and cheerfully planning to homeschool my children the following fall, I would have laughed in your face. Fall of 2016 is the time I have been looking forward to since my son was born; the time when both of my bright, expressive, rambunctious, high-energy children would be in school full-time. After six plus years of having at least one (and for a bit, four, but that's a story for another time) little person home with me all day, it would finally be ME TIME. And haven't I earned it? A few months ago, I would have said not just yes, but hell yes! as I reviewed the lists of books I hope to read in my lifetime, pulled out projects that have been pushed to the side, planned day dates with my husband for restaurants we've been wanting to try, and surveyed the garden and garage that could use some serious attention, all in anticipation of six hours a day (that's thirty hours a week!) all to myself.

"In his heart, a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

After a joyful, enriching kindergarten year at our neighborhood public school, my daughter started having some trouble in first grade. She was showing poor judgement and getting into trouble in the classroom. After the first semester parent-teacher conference and progress report, we realized that she was not being challenged and was acting out partially due to boredom. At the time, my husband and I joked that she should be homeschooled but didn't seriously consider it because after all, ME TIME was in sight and with our son in pre-K two mornings a week, I was already getting a little taste of next year's quiet bliss.
What ultimately changed our thinking from joking about homeschooling to actively pursuing it, was a matter of the LORD changing my heart.
A few weeks ago, I shared the story of my changed heart at my church's annual Ladies Night Out event. This is part of that testimony:
Many of you are familiar with the song “Ten Thousand Reasons” that we often sing on Sunday mornings. For years, I couldn't make it past the first verse (the one that ends, "whatever may pass and whatever lies before me / let me be singing when the evening comes") without sobbing and if by some miracle I made it past the first verse with my emotions under control, then the opening line of next verse ("You're rich in love and slow to anger") would be my undoing, and I would beg God though my tears to make these words be true of me, because I was an angry mama - fully wrapped up in the circumstances of my small children and my husband's unconventional work schedule and the pressures I felt to be "good enough." I rarely made it to evening/bedtime with a song in my heart; to be honest it was more often a scowl.
Then a few months ago, as the band played the opening chords to this song, I sort of thought to myself, "oh great, here we go again," and tried to remember if I had any tissues packed in my purse, but as we started singing, instead of despair, my heart filled with joy. 
Now, my circumstances haven't changed - my kids are still loud and crazy, my husband still works weird hours, and I am still very often overwhelmed by my role as a mother and homemaker - but as the song played, I realized that my heart has been changed from seeing my children and responsibilities as a burden to responding to these circumstances with joy, and for that I can take no credit, but give all the glory to God. 
The change I realized that Sunday in church was the change that was necessary in my heart to even begin to consider homeschooling. Over the next few weeks, through various sources in my early-morning Bible study, God repeatedly lead me to consider the ideal that I was holding on to for how my life would look with both kids in school during the day, and the idol I was creating out of having time to myself.
After that, I started picking the brains of some of my good friends who homeschool their children and tried to imagine what it would be like for our family to adopt this lifestyle. The more I learned about it, the more excited I got. Our daughter continued to go back and forth between good days and bad days at school and my husband and I became more and more convinced that this was the right thing to do. And now I'm counting down the days, not until the first day of the 2016-17 school year so I can breathe, but for the end of this current school year so I can bring my children home, enjoy the summer with them and together navigate this new path God has set before us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

an open apology letter to my children

Grandma loves to watch videos Grandpa took of our family when Uncle Luke and I were kids. Grandma has shown some of them to you, do you remember seeing on the TV when Mommy was little? 
Well, one time when I was a bigger girl, our family was sitting around watching a video that was mostly of me, because I kept dancing in front of the camera to take away the view of Uncle Luke, and I asked Grandma, "why didn't you slap me more often? I was so obnoxious!"
Grandpa about fell out of his chair laughing and spoke up, "because your mom wouldn't let me!" Despite the LOOK Grandma gave to Grandpa, we all had a good laugh and kept on watching the Katie show, trying to sneak glimpses of Luke between my dance moves.
When Mommy went to high school, I took a health class and we watched a movie called the Miracle of Birth which showed how babies are made and born. During the birthing scene, the teacher repeatedly rewound and fast forwarded the tape so that the on-screen doctor appeared to push the baby in and pull it back out of the mother over and over. It was awful! After class that day, I declared I would never give birth (traumatized by the health class video!) and never have kids (remembering the home movies Grandma showed me, I just knew that any child of mine would also have my boundless, annoying energy!) and I stuck by that statement even as I got older. 
The summer I was eighteen, the parents of a family I had consistently babysat for since I was eleven decided to go away to Paris for two weeks and asked if I would stay with their three girls. I agreed and at the end of those two weeks, even though the kids and I got along fine and had no major issues, the difference between a few hours and two weeks was staggering to me and I recommitted myself to not raising children! 
And then two months later I met your Dad ... 
Kids, you have the best daddy in the world, and as we got to know each other first as friends, then fell in love, and decided to be a family together, I knew that I could get past my fears and other feelings about being a mother if he was the father to my children. But even with the best daddy imaginable by my side, I have often failed to be the mother you deserve. My immature fears and feelings from my teenage years sometimes seep back into my heart and selfishness takes over. Please forgive me. 
Instead of enjoying you as beautiful gifts from the LORD, I sometimes watch the clock until daddy comes home from work. And instead of making each day count, I admit I have been counting down the days until I could send you both to school and there was hope of some "freedom" for me. 
I love you, Leila-girl. I love you, BoBo. I'm so thankful I get to be your mommy. Forgive me for the times I have forgotten how special and fleeting is this time we have together before you're grown up.  Forgive me for the opportunities I have missed in these first years. I know I can't make up the time lost, but please allow me to try. Let this blessing of homeschooling be a fresh start for us.